Part 5, Stage 2 – Further research trials: making my own skeleton leaves and preserving leaves

During my original experiments with leaves I decided that at some point I would need to research preservation techniques for leaves. Whilst I await an email before proceeding with my sample making I thought I would take some time to do this.

There seems to be many suggestions available online. I decided to try the following: Pressing the leaves using a flower press, preserving the leaves with glycerine, microwaving the leaves and trying to make my own skeleton leaves.

Using a flower press

I had actually forgotten how lovely this is to do. the eaves kept their colour well but obviously lost their flexibility and handle. Predictably they became a little like tissue which is not suitable for stitching into as they become far too delicate and fragile. Still, a lovely exercise to do and very useful if I were to be using paper making techniques to create the structures.


Preserving the leaves in glycerine

This method involves making a solution with glycerine (available from chemists in larger bottles than in the cake making isle). Then submerging the leaves into the solution for a few days until the leaves absorb the glycerine into their veins replacing the water already in them. There was some loss of colour but actually they survived better than I thought (See picture above). They certainly had a better handle and kept their suppleness. Therefore being much more suitable for stitching. Bark added to the solution also stayed usable and supple making it slightly easier to stitch through if necessary.

Microwaving the leaves

Microwaving the leaves proved to be highly tricky to master. It was so easy to over do the leaves and rather than drying them I kept burning them, much to the disgust of my two canine companions who seemed more than a little upset with the fumes that accompanied their dinner! The leaves also ended to to fragile to use for my type of project so all in all a little disappointing.

Trying to make my own skeleton leaves

From research carried out on the internet and speaking to others I got the distinct impression that this was not going to be an easy task. Nevertheless I thought I would give it a go. The most reliable method appeared to be simmering the newly fallen leaves in a solution of washing soda and water. Some advise a small amount of detergent as well. The head of science at the school I work at also suggested that washing up detergent is useful in breaking down cell walls so I tried adding a little of that as well.

I chose a selection of leaves as you can see from the pictures above. Once the leaves has gone sufficiently ‘mushy’ rather like soft well boiled cabbage, I removed them from the pot and rubbed them gently with a paint brush. This removes the pulp but leaves the veins intact (hopefully). Some leaves were better than others. Some completely disintegrated whilst others held up remarkably well. Chestnut and oak leaves worked particularly well whereas the silver birch leaves I collected fell apart too easily.

The leaves once processed still had a lot of colouration left which needed to be removed. Following some more research I bleached the leaves in a mix of thick bleach and water. This worked very well (see pictures below). The main problem I have is that again, once dried the leaves are very delicate compared to the ones that I purchased to use for the samples so for the time being I feel that I will continue to use them until I can find another method that keeps the leaves soft enough to use.

20161017_123140  20161019_095813

Bleaching Leaves

I had an idea that I would try bleaching some fresh leaves to see what would happen. I left the leaves in a solution of bleach and water for around 24 hours. The results were very interesting. The leaves took on a very ethereal translucence and dried to be very ghost like. They again ended up quite tissue like but had a little more body than the ‘homemade’ skeleton leaves. I soaked them in glycerine afterwards to preserve them. I’m not sure I like the effect as the detail of the veins are lost in the process. They are visible when they are held up to the light, I took a picture whist they were in the bleach bath when they were around halfway through the process of bleaching. I prefer the markings produced at this stage much more than the finished effect. If the process could be stopped halfway it would produce wonderful marked translucent leaves for using as materials for vessels.


This section of research took quite a long time to complete but was well worth the effort. The glycerine method was by far the best way that I tried to preserve the leaves to keep some strength in them, all the others led to leaves that were too fragile. Pressing worked well if the leaves didn’t require stitching and bleaching could be used as an alternative method. It is not a technique I had come across and I am glad I tried it on a whim. I may try some more; removing them at a part bleached stage.

I may also try using larger horse chestnut leaves to skeletonize as these worked the best of the leaves I experimented with. Larger structures could then be made with these. I may try soaking them in glycerine this time to see if that makes any difference to their strength and handle. Preserving leaves in wax is another option to try in the future.

The trouble I am having at the moment is knowing where to stop. I think this project may well run and run but I cannot afford to tally too long experimenting with techniques. I need to press on and start to narrow things down as well as trying some other ideas out to try and make a collection of experimental samples from which to select a couple to proceed with. I have emailed my tutor with some lines of enquiry I would like to follow. I am hoping to start on some more samples as soon as I hear back.




About Julie Hooker

Having recently returned to my roots in Surrey, I am currently studying a BA Hons degree with the OCA. My work is often inspired by the local countryside in the beautiful Surrey Hills area and the wild rugged nature of the North Cornish coast. Steam engines and abandoned industrial history are also recent themes. A free machine embroiderer and felt maker; I like to explore the use of natural, found materials to create my art, whether that be as raw materials to stitch or weave with or as a material with which to produce dye or print with. Previously, I completed City and Guilds parts 1 & 2 Creative Embroidery at the East Berkshire College in Windsor in 2007. I was also awarded first place in the wearable art section of the National Quilt Championships 2008 and 2009 held annually at Sandown Park.
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